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17 November 2016, 15:53

The future of planning marketing spend

Robert Pepper, pslondon's Strategy Partner discusses how to use our futurethinking process to create next year’s plan...

Now that’s a novel idea...

It always struck me during my many years working at some of the UK’s best-known brands just how painful the annual planning process was.  No matter how early we in the marketing teams decided we would think about planning, we’d always get caught out by the finance team sending us their planning templates with what we felt was a crazy deadline to complete them.  And when we looked at the templates, it was all about how to take last year’s numbers and deliver more than the previous year, but for less cost.  Sometimes I wished I’d decided to be an accountant as those guys only had to add stuff up, rather than create new solutions.  (Ok, I know I’m being a bit unfair on our fabulous finance colleagues, but you know what I mean!) 

Then, one year, I remember a new head of finance appeared at one of those brands and he had this novel idea.  We’ll start planning really early, we’ll start with a blank sheet of paper and we’ll do it together. So, we explored questions like “What do we think we could achieve next year?” “How dramatic a change could we stimulate in our customer base?” and shockingly “How much do you actually need to achieve this?”

We loved this new approach, as it allowed us to do what marketers do best, which is to take all that historical knowledge and insight and use that as a basis to invent a new future, rather than be constrained by it.  And as long as we could demonstrate the return on investment, our new finance best friend would support us all the way – and he even helped us work out how to measure it all.

This approach is now part of what we do everyday with our futurethinking© methodology.  We help our clients break free from the past and invent a completely new future, then piece together the financial measures that will demonstrate the value of achieving it. It sounds easy – just start with a vision for three or five year’s time and work backwards from there to today – but in reality, we’re so conditioned to start from where we are now, it requires huge discipline to take a different approach. 

By starting with a futurethinking© workshop and carefully following the critical steps within it, we walk through the creation of this vision and ensure it isn’t constrained. Then we have tools that enable us to build a bridge back from that future, so plotting out the key actions and commitments needed to make that desired future a reality.  Only then can the annual marketing plan and budget be generated – and now it can be back in our finance colleague’s format – without us worrying that we are selling our ambition short.

A great example of this was when one of our university clients started to think about how to hit its student recruitment target for the forthcoming year.  As in previous years, the initial request was the classic “more for less” scenario, until it was pointed out that the government had changed the rules, and the numbers cap was being lifted, so they could take virtually as many students as they could get.  Immediately, it was clear that this would require a completely new approach.  So we ran a futurethinking© workshop, invented a new future and set about creating marketing campaigns to deliver that future.  We looked at a re-invention of their proposition to focus it more tightly on its target market, new media channels to reach the market, better, more accessible case studies and a much more fluid test and learn approach to media planning and spend.

The results right through the student recruitment cycle were significantly better than their competitive set in both quality and quantity terms and set the university up perfectly for subsequent reputation building activity.

Oh yes, and it blew the previous year’s numbers out the water....


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